When I was in sixth grade everyone knew what the scoliosis screening was. It meant that for a period of time in the school day all of the girls were whisked away to one locker room/bathroom and all of the boys I’m assuming but I actually didn’t confirm this went to the boys room. Whenever there was any kind of check in school or otherwise I would be horrified because I am not really a hypochondriac until someone suggests that I might have something and then I hold my breathe until I get the all clear. The lice checks was the worst because I was so embarrassed that they even had to check my hair…luckily that was not a diagnosis I ever got. It may have been the skin so soft saving me from lice. I don’t know!
On this particular day the gym teacher came in and said that she would need all of the girls to come to the girls’ bathroom. We all looked at each other with a little dread because they never really told you why you all needed to go there. Were we learning to put a tampon in? Were we getting our hair checked for lice? Did someone use a sharpie on the stall doors to say that our teacher was a slut? Why? Why did, we as a collective group, need to be ushered to the bathroom together? The funny thing about all of this is that the cool kids, the jocks, the nerds, the shy, the whatever category you fit in…you all were rarely included in the same festivities. These were the few times you could stand next to the popular girl and be in the same boat as her.
As we all walked to the bathroom we all stood in our groups that we belonged in and we whispered to each other. There was always someone in the group that knew what was happening and we all believed that person regardless of the fact that they were never were right. This particular day I was walking with my group but the popular girl in front of me turned to me and said that they found out that a girl in our class was pregnant and they were giving us all pregnancy tests. I gulped even though there was no actual way for me to be pregnant at ALL, (I still played with my dolls for goodness sake) I was afraid that somehow I was going to fail the test. Ugh! Could you imagine being pregnant and not knowing how it happened and still having to tell your parents? As I walked forward on my march of doom to find out that I in fact was the second person to have an immaculate conception, I saw the school nurse not handing out rabbits…because I knew that if the rabbit died it meant you were pregnant. I read a lot of history and novels and I really didn’t check up on how they did current pregnancy tests) She instead was making these girls lift their shirts and bend over to touch their toes. OH the scoliosis screening. I had one before and I passed so I was only a little worried that I was going to have this.
It came to be my turn and I bend over and touch my toes. I am told to stand up really straight and to bend over again. I do so, I am told to bend side to side and again bend over and touch my toes. The school nurse pats me on the back and says go stand over there. I go stand over by the sinks and I watch everyone else bend over, get the pat on their backs and sent back to class. I have a second person come over and say “Pull up your shirt and bend over!”
“I already did that part.” I tell them
“I know, but do it again.” it was a second school nurse and she smiled and said “For me!”
So I lift my shirt and bend over to touch my toes. Then I do other positions. Again I was told to stand over there by the sinks. This is when I start to feel it. Something is wrong. Oh great, well at least I’m not pregnant. I think to myself. I do try to find something good in a world of bad.
The gym teacher comes over and again I am bending over and touching my toes. All three scoliosis experts are whispering together. I hear bits and pieces of what they are saying, “I always thought she was standing like that because she was disinterested with gym.”
Well that’s fair, I was disinterested in gym. Ugh! I’m not athletic….could my gym be me hula-hooping and hopscotching and dancing? I would really prefer that.
I get this strange feeling as I look around the bathroom and I am the last girl in there. Fuck! I just won the Scoliosis Contest! I get a form letter with my name on the top and I am sent back to my classroom. My sixth grade teacher was an unkind woman whom I didn’t think enjoyed me being in her class at all. When I walked in it looked like I had been missing in some strange time vortex because everyone looked at me like “Holy Shit she’s back!” Like I had disappeared for months or something.
The teacher looked at me and with her unpleasant face and says “Why are you late?”
‘I would rather not say’ is what I was thinking. Not in front of the whole class especially! She stood there with her impatience growing and said again louder “I am waiting! The other girls have been back for over an hour, why are you late? Did you get lost?”
The class laughs. I stand there with my paper that I was supposed to bring first to my teacher and then home to my parents, but here’s the truth, I didn’t want this teacher to know that I had a defect. I didn’t want this teacher to know that I had scoliosis. I didn’t want this teacher to have the satisfaction of…..”Rebecca, Do you want detention? Stop being a space shot and tell me why are you late to my class?”
I began to feel the lump grow in my throat and my eyes burned and I felt the tears come even though I willed them not to. I walked all the while looking into that mean old witch’s face and I handed her the note. She smiled with a look of pleasure and read the note. When she read it, I could tell that something in her smugness broke. She handed the note back to me and said quietly “Ok, take your seat. You can come up to me after class to get what you have missed.”
I didn’t fucking care what I missed. I really didn’t want to even talk to her. She was an awful person and took every opportunity she had to embarrass me. I took the letter from her and returned to my seat. All eyes were on me and I could tell that some of them really felt sorry for me. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, I just wanted to get on with my day. I put the note in my desk and took out my school materials. I looked up at the chalk board and began to take notes. They were blurry from the hot tears that had taken over…stupid tear ducts. Taking notes was something I could do for now. After the bell rang and everyone rushed to get the hell out of there, the teacher called me back to see her.
I walked slowly to her desk. She took out a sticker book that she had and she smiled at me. She reached inside and she put a scratch and sniff cherry sticker on my notebook and she said “You are a brave girl. One of the bravest I have ever met. I just know that you are going to do very well with whatever happens, but please let me know what the doctors say. I am here if you ever need to talk.”
As I write this I have tears streaming down my face. This moment in time still carries so many feelings. I thought this woman hated me. She didn’t and what I didn’t know was that she had a tough life too. She saw something in me that triggered a memory of herself, it was that memory that she wasn’t particularly fond of. I, however, became a student she could relate to. I took my notebook with the new scratch and sniff sticker and I left that classroom. I still had to take the bus home to my house on the top of the hill. I had to sit among the other children that weren’t diagnosed with scoliosis that day and listen to them joke and laugh and sing. I looked at that scratch and sniff sticker and I gave a good scratch and then I sniffed, it smelled like cherries. I sat there sniffing that sticker until I got home.
When I arrived home my brothers and sister were there and they saw the official looking note sticking partially out of my notebook, my youngest brother grabbed it before I could hide it. It started with “Becki got detention! Hahahahaha! Becki got detention” My youngest brother stood there waving this stupid fucking letter in the air and I had to grab it before they found out what it really said. I really didn’t need them to pick on me for this too. I jumped and I tried to get it. The others laughed and I felt so hurt, embarrassed and overwhelmed. My sister reached over and grabbed the letter and told my brother to grow up. My sister saw that I was visibly upset. She put the note in my hand and said “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I didn’t get detention.” was all I could say. I took my books into my bedroom and closed the door. I didn’t really know what scoliosis was but the nurse gave me a book called “Deenie” by Judy Bloom. In it I would learn that scoliosis could be treated.
My mother came home from work and right away my brothers told her that I got detention. My mother came in and ask “Why did you get detention?”
I began to cry. I was so fucking angry. Why can’t anyone just leave me the hell alone?
“It’s okay. Just tell me what you did and we can come up with a solution.” my mother offered.
I looked at her and I just handed her the note. I was not going to tell her that I didn’t have detention. I wasn’t going to tell her that I had scoliosis. I was just going to sit there with tears running hot down my face. She read the note and then she looked at me and hugged me. She said that she was sorry and asked if I wanted anything special for dinner. I didn’t. She then said “Why don’t we order pizza for dinner?” I nodded and that is what we did. (Ugh, what I wouldn’t give for a slice of pizza right now….stupid diet!)
I then had to go to see an orthopedist and they confirmed that I did in fact have scoliosis and that I had to go to the Shriner’s Hospital to see what the next step was. At the Shriner’s Hospital I found out that I had quite a severe curvature and that I would start with a back brace first. If the back brace didn’t work I would need surgery. I was fitted for my back brace and it would come in in a few weeks.
The first day I wore my back brace I couldn’t breath, stand erect and sitting was quite uncomfortable. My clothes didn’t fit over this stupid fucking contraption. My mother suggested going to the mall. When we were driving to the mall, this is before we had to wear seat-belts, my mother took a sharp turn I slid across the seat and fell over. I was like a turtle in this dumb thing. When I got home my family members did their best to be nice to me. I honestly just wished they would be normal. That night I couldn’t sleep because this back brace was digging into me. It was going to be a long eight years.
My check up revealed that the back brace was working and I would probably not need surgery when I was done. I went to the Shriner’s Hospital for check ups like you would for braces for teeth. And like braces for teeth they would tighten it up. I would get x-rays and I would be told to keep up the good work. I even was there for Christmas time and they gave me free toys. I got a Simon I always wanted one. I played it until the batteries died and then that was that. Batteries were expensive and that sucker took like eight D sized batteries. I knew we couldn’t afford it so I just hid it in the back of my closest. I would tell myself that when I made my own money I would buy batteries and play with it again. Once I had a job and money I had completely forgotten about my Simon toy.
I wore that back brace until I was eighteen years old. I start out being embarrassed of it. But you see, there were some really great people in my life. They asked me questions and then acted like it was no big deal. I was a cheerleader and my friends would help me in and out of that thing at practice and games. I got so comfortable I remember carrying into my friend’s house and leaving it in their rooms while we went out for the night.
I still have a curve in my spine and I would love to tell you that I barely notice it. I have pain from time to time and sure it sucks…but I grew so much in that back brace. It is a part of MY STORY. It isn’t even an ugly part thanks to some very lovely friends. So if I have never thanked you, which I am not so sure I ever did, I want to thank you now. Thank you for accepting me for who I was back brace and all. You made me feel less like a Frankenstein and more like treasured friend. I appreciated it then and I am stronger now thanks to you.
Moral of my story: Don’t underestimate people. Also if you ever get a back brace try wearing it around before you go shopping in it, that was not a great idea. And Pizza is great…stupid diet.
Until next time 🙂